'Mandy' Review: Nicolas Cage's Twisted Riff On 'John Wick' Is A Gnarly Acid-Trip [Sundance]

A primal, psychedelic rage-scream of a movie, Mandy takes a while to get going, but once it does, it delivers exactly what fans are hoping for: Nicolas Cage fully unleashing the beast within and absolutely wrecking people with a giant axe and a chainsaw. It's just a shame it doesn't get to the blood-soaked revenge much sooner.

Mandy, the sophomore feature from Beyond the Black Rainbow director Panos Cosmatos, is another full-on plunge into a kaleidoscopic nightmare. It's 1983, and Cage plays Red, a lumberjack who lives in a secluded cabin in the woods with his artist girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), who spends her days reading fantasy paperbacks with covers that look like heavy metal albums. Mandy catches the eye of a crazed cult leader (Linus Roache), who conjures a group of motorcycle-riding demons to kidnap her.

The phrase "slow burn" isn't strong enough to describe the glacial pacing of this film's first half: it's more like a simmering volcano waiting to accumulate enough pressure to erupt. Cosmatos crafts a unique cinematic atmosphere by playing with color saturations and drenching the film in swaths of bright red and green lights, so even gorehounds should be entertained by the stylistic touches while they wait for the shit to inevitably hit the fan.

But the style can't fully counterbalance the movie's indulgent length. It drags on with speech after speech from the villainous cult nut jobs, including an interminable seduction scene that ends with a drugged Mandy bitterly laughing at the cult leader's attempt to woo her. Cage's Red disappears for a significant stretch of the movie, and while some might argue that his absence is a trade off for establishing Mandy's character so we feel Red's pain more acutely later on, he's so spellbinding when he's on screen that it may not be a worthwhile trade.

Once the brutality begins, though, it's a non-stop trek into a trippy hellscape as Red goes after the cult (and those demons!) to exact his revenge. From the moment Cage starts chugging a bottle of alcohol, alternating between screaming with anger and crying between swigs, he's in Crazy Nic Cage Mode. And this may be the longest sustained period of Rage Cage we've ever seen. In the final 45 minutes, he forges his own axe, secures a crossbow from a hermit played by Predator's Bill Duke, and begins systematically battling each of the people who took Mandy away from him. By the time he's covered in blood and sampling the demons' hallucinogenic drugs, you'll feel nearly as delirious as his character.

While Cage gets his John Wick moment to hunt down evil opponents, the film's gnarly gore that flows in the second half is probably more akin to the heightened excesses of Hobo with a Shotgun. It took Cosmatos seven years to get this movie made, and once you see it, you'll understand why. Mandy is a totally uncompromising vision from a singular filmmaker – a pulsing, twisted descent into heavy metal vengeance that must be seen to be believed.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10